The latest Scottish government delay to cuts in Air Passenger Duty has been condemned by the trade.
Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president Ken McLeod accused ministers of “kicking the can down the road” by holding off the introduction of its flagship policy to replace APD with a new devolved Air Departure Tax (ADT) until at least April 2020.
McLeod also called for a more entrepreneurial approach to reducing or removing the tax, which the travel industry believes will encourage airlines to introduce more flights from Scottish airports.
He said: “The Republic of Ireland divested itself of the dreaded air tax in 2011, which affected Northern Ireland to such an extent the UK government reduced tax to zero in 2013 on direct long-haul flights.
“Ryanair has just reduced its next winter schedule out of Belfast because of the tax still remaining on short haul.
“So, ways can be found to get around several challenges and the Scottish government needs to be more entrepreneurial in its approach to tackle the issue.
“Airlines will invest in Scotland if we reduce or remove the tax, and despite Brexit we still need to plan for the future.
“The government still needs to look beyond the short term and think of the long term health of our economy and our tourism industry.”
Plans to set up a devolved Air Departure Tax, which would see the levy immediately cut by 50%, are tied up in legal issues, and ministers now say they will not be resolved until after April next year, the BBc reported.
Aviation industry bosses urged ministers to “get on with it sooner rather than later, or be up front with us that it’s never going to happen”.
But opposition parties called on the government in Scotland to scrap the tax cut plans altogether.
The Scottish Parliament was given powers to charge tax on passengers leaving Scottish airports under the Scotland Act, which came into force in 2017, and MSPs passed a bill to set up a devolved tax later that year.
The Scottish National Party has a longstanding policy to cut the new tax by 50%, before eventually scrapping it entirely – a move it says will boost the economy by increasing the number of flights in and out of the country.
However, the plans ran into difficulty with EU state aid rules, which currently see airports in the Highlands and Islands given an exemption.
Scottish and UK government officials have been working together to solve the issue.
But Scottish economy minister Kate Forbes told MSPs that “a solution has not been found that would be ready for introduction at the beginning of the next financial year”.
She said that this “taken together with the continued uncertainty around Brexit” meant that the introduction of the new tax would have to be deferred “beyond April 2020”.
She added: “We are doing all we can to work with airlines and airports to help grow the direct routes which are important for our tourism sector and Scottish businesses.”
However, a joint statement from groups including Airlines UK and the owners of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports said the government “needs to be straight with industry”.
They said: “This was a cast-iron manifesto commitment and they have now failed to implement it two years in a row, and in the meantime it is Scottish tourism and connectivity that is suffering.
“The message from airlines and airports is clear – either do what you have promised and get on with it sooner rather than later or be upfront with us that it is never going to happen.”
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